Seven Facts About Mental Health That Everyone Needs To Know

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Rosie McCall 27 Mar 2019, 19:36

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Mental illness touches us all – if you are not one of the 18.5 percent of US adults personally affected in any given year, you no doubt know someone who is.

Fortunately, the stigma around mental illness is being slowly dismantled. It is no longer the taboo subject it was even just a few years ago thanks to mental health activists and educational courses.

But there is still work to do when it comes to tearing down these barriers. Here are just a handful of facts on mental illness everyone should know.

1. Approximately 43.8 million Americans will suffer at least one episode of mental illness in any given year.

That is 18.5 percent of your fellow countrymen and women. What's more, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates as many as one in 25 US adults will experience mental illness serious enough to interfere or limit their ability to go about their normal routine.

Perhaps it is not that surprising then that mental and substance use disorders, combined, are the leading causes of disability worldwide – contributing to 23 percent of all years lost due to disability. 

2. Anxiety is the most common type of mental illness. 

Anxiety disorder comes in many shapes and sizes, from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder (PD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and phobia. Combined, 18.1 percent of adults are thought to experience at least one of the above in any given year, making anxiety disorder the most common mental illness in the States.

The runner up is depression, affecting 6.9 percent (16 million) of adults every year.

3. Roughly half of all chronic mental disorders will start before a person's 14th birthday.

Yes, it is possible to develop a mental health condition in childhood. Indeed, youth mental health seems to be getting worse – and it may, at least in part, have something to do with our addiction to our smartphones. To take depression as an example: According to Mental Health America, 8.2 percent of under-18s experienced severe depression in 2015. That is up from 5.9 percent in 2012. 

Overall, it is thought that roughly 20 percent of the world's youth experience a mental health problem of some sort or another. The truth is that mental illness can strike anyone at any time, though specific risk factors (think: a family history, trauma, and a high IQ) are thought to make it more likely. 

4. Mental health is not all in your head. It can affect your body, too.

Despite what the name "mental health" might suggest, it's not all in the mind. In fact, according to one study, it can take a greater toll on your expected lifespan than heavy smoking. 

As one Twitter user and mental health advocate pointed out, coping with a mental illness can be exhausting. It can also affect the way your immune system and digestive tract operate, while past studies have linked mental illness to more serious physical complications. For example, metabolic disordersrespiratory diseasecardiovascular disease, and immune system-related diseases like HIV

5. More than half of adults attribute mental illness to a personal failing – they are wrong.

In the face of all that we have learned about mental illness over the last few decades, a Kaiser Permanente poll found that more than half of adults believe mental illness is at least partly explained by a personal weakness or character flaw. In reality, a complex set of factors play a role in our mental state, from genetics to the environment to elements as seemingly minor as pollution levels. (But "character flaws" are not one of them.)

Equally destructive is the myth that people with mental illnesses can be dangerous and violent. In actual fact, they are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime.

6. Women are more likely to experience mental illness, but men are far more likely to take their own lives. 

A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that women were more likely than men to be diagnosed with a mental health problem, with young women being at the greatest risk. Researchers found that one in six British adults had a common mental disorder, but this figure rose to one in five when men were taken out of the equation and dropped to one in eight when women were.

However, other studies have shown that men are more likely to take their own life. Suicide is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the States and the second leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 34. According to NAMI, 90 percent of those who die by suicide show signs of mental illness. 

7. Recovery IS possible with the appropriate treatment and management. (Though what is appropriate may mean different things for different people.)

To end on a positive note, recovery is possible. Indeed, some people may find that with the right treatment they never experience another episode. This could involve medicine, therapy, support groups, lifestyle changes, or all of the above.

The problem, at the moment, seems to be access – just 41 percent of US adults with a mental health condition are receiving the treatment they need, according to NAMI. Things are even worse for ethnic minority groups, with African Americans and Hispanic Americans accessing mental health services at half the rate of white Americans and Asian Americans at just a third.

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